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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Towed Vehicle Braking War Heats Up With New Innovations

So many times while we are helping a customer configure a towing system with such items as tow bars,
base plates and accessories, when we get to the question of braking systems the reply is "I don't need one, my RV is big enough to stop without it."  While this may be true, it is not the general stopping with plenty of notice an RV'er should be concerned about.  Emergency situations where a braking system buys you even a couple of more feet can make the difference between life and catastrophe.  But that is not all a towed vehicle braking system delivers, most states require one on anything being towed over 2500 lbs (check your state's specific brake laws), you also are protected from a break away situation if your towed vehicle becomes detached as well as from potential costly litigation in the event something does go wrong and you're without one.  Even with a setup as the one above (which is mine by the way) I have noticed a much shorter stopping distance in an emergency braking situation.

Portable Braking Systems

Over the past couple of years portable braking systems have really led the charge in customer demand.  Innovations in size, weight and features have been a part of the attraction these systems have garnered recently. But more so, RV'ers who change toads often are realizing that the cost and time incurred in the installation of a permanent braking system just does not make sense for them.  But they are not perfect and their biggest flaw is trying to brake your vehicle with a dead brake pedal.  I am sure you have experienced this, your vehicle stalls or you move it with the engine off and when you try to hit the brakes it is very difficult to push the pedal.  Well that is what these systems are up against and so it is difficult to deliver as perfect a braking situation as it would be with a live pedal and what you find in permanent systems.  The original box style portable brake was the BrakeBuddy and was a major hit with RV'ers and started the portable revolution. Predecessors from Roadmaster and their EvenBrake, BrakePro and 9700 units, Blue Ox Apollo and then Patriot brake systems, BrakeBuddy's Vantage braking systems, the RVI Brake and now the updated RVI Brake 2 and soon to be released SMI Delta Brake which is billed as the smallest portable to hit the market.  There has been a lot of development lately in portables and rightly so, these systems had not really seen any design changes since the introduction of the BrakeBuddy in 1994.  Blue Ox introduced the Patriot a few years ago which was a major update to their original system the Apollo. It was the first system to utilize an electric actuated brake cylinder arm. Along with the Patriot most others upgraded their units to feature wireless notification and adjustments from the motorhome and more accurate proportional braking. More recently the RVI Brake was launched into the market by the engineers who developed the original Brake Buddy.  The most notable and attractive feature was its extremely small size.  They have just updated this system to the RVI Brake 2 and its ability to monitor the towed vehicle's tire pressures. With the SMI Delta Force on the horizon I am sure we will see other manufacturers take their portable braking systems to even newer levels.

Permanent Braking Systems

With all of this hype over portable units does this mean the end of permanent braking systems?  No way!  The best braking system I have ever used was the SMI Air Force One Braking System.  It truly delivered proportional braking by way of tapping into the motorhome's air brakes. A similar concept as you would find in tractor trailer braking. There are no electrical connections to wear down your toads battery and setup for towing was the simple connection of an air hose.  If you know you will keep that toad for more than a few years and your motorhome has air brakes I highly recommend you take a look at SMI Air Force One system.  Other very highly regarded permanent braking systems are the Unified Braking System by U.S. Gear, the SMI Stay-in-Play Duo Brake System and the M & G Engineering Brake System.  I have experience with all three and found they all are very close in performance.  The differences lie in the exact way they activate your vehicle's brakes as well as the installation process.  The U.S. Gear and SMI units can be installed in any vehicle where as the M & G system is vehicle specific.  There are a few others such as the very unique Mountain Master brake system (which may or may not still be available) along with air cylinder systems like the Blue Ox Brake Safe & Roadmaster Brake Master.

Mechanical Braking Systems

If you would have asked me to invest money into a mechanical towed vehicle braking system just a few years ago I would have said "No Way!" To be honest I was thinking they went the way of the dinosaur, but we are seeing these systems gain traction in the last year or so.  Right now the only companies we know producing this style of towed vehicle brake is NSA RV Products with their Ready Brake and Blue Ox with the AutoStop.  This type of system utilizes a cable which is run from the receiver of the motorhome through the engine compartment and hooked onto the brake pedal.  The momentum of the towed vehicle pushes the braking receiver forward pulling the cable and applying the brakes. NSA has various versions with the most popular being the Ready Brute which is an integrated tow bar and braking system all in one.  It's a simple design that does not have many moving parts, no power is required and they are easy to maintain. The key to these systems is the initial setup and getting the cable length just right.

In the last few years I have found myself utilizing an RVI Brake 2 for the very reason many others are turning to them, because we have changed toads a few times in that period.  Although not nearly as convenient as the SMI or U.S. Gear braking systems once it's installed the RVI Brake 2 is very fast to setup and remove.  So much so that I have not been able to set aside the hours of labor to install a permanent system.  And with the SMI Delta Force due out anytime now, I may never find myself digging around the engine compartment installing a braking system.

If you are in need of help finding that braking system that fits your RV'ing lifestyle, contact us. We carry most of the manufacturers mentioned above and can help you find the one that meets your needs and specifications.  We would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment with information and details on what you think of your present braking system.  And if I have missed any, please let me know.


  1. Very thorough review of the types and advantages of towed vehicle braking systems. I’ve been towing a vehicle behind my motorhome for 15 years and have been amazed by the various models that have come and gone, but the major players mentioned here have been steady performers. I personally use one of the mentioned brands, but am amazed at the number of motorhomes I see hitching up to their cars without the braking system. For everyone’s safety and to avoid “braking” the law, consider installing a towed car brake.

  2. Not to mention, that if anything happens and you don't have a brake system in place you are liable for damages and your insurance company will not back you.
    Don't be Cheap, it could be your life or the lives of others.

  3. Are you familiar with Air force One, and if so, how do you rate it compared to RVI brake2?
    Eric Sukkel